Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spin Journal #1: The Gray Monmouth Cap

In a valiant attempt to document the construction of a Monmouth cap from sheep to wearing, I'm starting a "Spin Journal."

Years ago (we won't say how long, as it's embarrassing), I got a Cotwold hogget from (IIRC) Teresa Simons of Mountain Shadow Ranch. She brought a darling little Cotswold down to an historical reenactment at Coloma (my first wheel came from that same reenactment), and she did a sheep-shearing demonstration using a set of 19th century hand shears. Unfortunately, the little beast was squirmy, and it takes a lot of skill to shear using those old hand shears, so there were a lot of second cuts, but the fleece is so pretty--a mix of white, black, and silver gray--and the wool is so soft and lustrous that I didn't want to just use it for felting. It ended up in the back of the stash closet until I could find time to do something with it.

A few years (and a few fleeces) later, I got a gorgeous silver-gray Corridale fleece from Sherilee Farms. That fleece came off Christopher, their big, award-winning Corridale ram, and I got the entire fleece (I even skirted it myself). It was a huge fleece--14 pounds after skirting--so I graded it, and wondered what to do with all the leg and belly wool. It was too nice to just dump (Sheryl and Lee kept the sheep coated, so even the "trash" was first-rate), but too short for combing and spinning worsted yarn. Again, more fleece was consigned to the back of the stash closet until inspiration struck.

This spring, as I was cleaning the studio, I came across all this fleece that had been stored for years. The bugs hadn't gotten to it, so I sent it off to Yolo Wool Works for scouring. There wasn't enough of the Cotswold nor of the Corridale leg and belly to send as separate lots, so I thought, why not have them scoured together (and save $30), blend them, and see what I get? Both staples are about the same length, both are soft, and and the different colors (from black, through silver gray, to white) should make a nice gray wool. So all that wool went as one lot to the processor.

I got back about 8 pounds of scoured wool, all of which needs picked. While I will spend lots of money on my fiber addiction, I balked at buying a picker. It's not the cost; I simply can't justify the space a nice Patrick Green triple-picker will take up. Also, I'm just a little afraid of something with that many sharp points. I'm by nature a klutz, and I'm afraid I would not concentrate on what I'm doing for just a second and shred my arm from wrist to elbow. So the wool has to be picked by hand--a horrible, boring, tedious job, but it has to be done. I just put on a "Book on Tape," and let someone read to me while I sit in the studio, pulling locks apart and picking out noils and bits of vegetative matter. I got about half a pound picked before my hands finally rebelled and I couldn't pick any more.

After picking comes carding. I bought a new set of handcards in February, and all this gave me a chance to give them a serious workout. I did give them a workout, as I handcarded this entire half-pound of picked wool, rolled it into neat rolags, and stacked them in a basket for spinning. I also realized that there is no way that I can humanly pick and handcard all this wool--it's too hard on my fingers and hands, and I need them for other things, like spinning. Time to break down and order the drum carder. I was nearly ready to give up, so I tried spinning up a few of the rolags to see what kind of yarn I would get. Hooray! The yarn, a glorious tweedy gray, was just what I was looking for, so my enthusiasm for this project was renewed, and I slogged on, carding and rolling all this gray fuzz.

I took the basket of rolags and my little Reeves castle wheel to School of the Renaissance Soldier and began spinning up the rolags. I'm trying to spin a fat, woolen yarn and it's proving quite a trick. I normally spin either worsted or semi-worsted and very fine (think sock-weight), so I have to spin slowly and keep saying "Fat. Soft. Fat. Soft."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Enforced Idleness

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a complete slug, except when you're ordered to do so. Then it becomes a form of torture.

I pulled a muscle in my back in late January. Pulling a muscle in your back is nothing like pulling a muscle in another part of your body--it takes forever to heal, and just when you think everything is OK, your back betrays you. My back seemed to be fine until Tuesday, and then agony! By Wednesday morning, I could barely move. The diagnosis: a pulled muscle (the same one pulled in January). The verdict: absolutely NOTHING until Monday. No work, no driving, no shopping, no housework, nothing. I was sent home with two prescriptions for painkillers and muscle relaxants (oooh, happy drugs!), a referral for physical therapy in four weeks, and a warning that if I tried to do anything, my back wouldn't get better. As I'm planning to camp at Black Sheep next month, my back had better be in good shape, so I'm trying my best to behave myself.

By Thursday afternoon, I was B.O.R.E.D. There is nothing so boring as enforced idleness, especially when there are so many things that need to be done, but can't because you're not allowed to do any of them. The studio needs to be straightened up, there are skeins of yarn to roll into balls, and since the carder is now here, a ton of fleece to be carded and spun. There's also all that "other" stuff that should be done: laundry, ironing, vacuuming, and dusting. Since I can't do any of those, I did things I could safely accomplish: grading papers (my students will be so pleased), and knitting a sheep.

When I went to Stitches in February, I was told "don't bring home any sheep," so as a joke I bought a kit to knit and felt a toy sheep from Yarn Barn. The sheep is from FiberTrend's pattern (#206X), and the kit had 3 skeins of Reynold's Lopi: 2 light gray and 1 dark brown. The sheep is knit on US#11 needles and, since I can't do anything except sit on the divan and knit, works up pretty quickly. I finished the body on Thursday, and probably will have the sheep finished by the end of the weekend. FiberTrends also has a pattern for little llamas and alpacas (#207X), so a trip to the LYS to order the pattern may be in my future.